This much is known: It's 4th Grade. Miss Wendy asked for anyone willing to share. In a move that remains foreign to my adult mind, I raised my hand.
Defeating Stage Fright
I prepared the tenth and final installment of my hit series Evil Cat for the weekly write-and-tell. I love the excitement in the crowd. My fellow classmates love the harrowing tales of a hapless hero and his murderous cat. This was based loosely on my family cat at the time. He was two claws south of full-fledged homicide, however. I digress.
I settle into the sharing chair in front of probably thirty or so classmates and Miss Wendy. I read the title. Friends and fans gasp. Evil Cat 10 has arrived.
Let’s take a moment at this point to emphasize the numeric TEN. I had already delivered nine other gruesome tales of the evil cat.
Now, I don't remember the exact details but I know this still so many years later: Having lost his family, home, and sanity in prior editions, the hero seeks a way to defeat the evil cat by rummaging through his daughter's toy box. As children, toy boxes have all the answers. Even the adults in my stories understood that.
“That's enough,” said Miss Wendy.
I paused, looking up from my handwritten epic. Did I mishear her?
“Take your seat, Michael. I don't want to hear another word.”
Defeated by Fear
Baffled and hurt, I took my seat on the alphabet rug with everyone else. I wonder to this day if Miss Wendy realized the damage she did in such a flawless swoop. Without explanation, she filled a child with so much doubt that it's the last time I've ever read my writing to an audience.
If I saw her today and asked her why she wouldn't have an answer. She wouldn't remember the incident or me or anything about the story. So often, the stamp cares little for the paper it imprints upon.
Despite what she might’ve believed, Evil Cat 10 ended on a happy note. The evil was banished. The protagonist was able to escape the darkness that had plagued him throughout the year. Maybe that would’ve been too optimistic.
The role of the teacher when promoting creativity shouldn't be to censor or humiliate the student who dares to share. If the content of their mind is so frightful, perhaps engaging with them constructively before the tenth installment of a heavily Stephen King-inspired story.
It concerns me to consider that hundreds if not thousands of students have crossed her path--and the paths of other teachers like her--and felt completely shut down when their minds are most susceptible to the seeds of anxiety. I think of all the children who saw a way to express themselves being crushed before their thoughts could blossom.